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Opioid maker Insys paid physician assistant kickbacks, U.S. jury hears

CONCORD, N.H. (Reuters) – A former physician assistant in New Hampshire put his own greed ahead of medical obligations by taking kickbacks from Insys Therapeutics Inc to prescribe patients its highly addictive fentanyl spray, a federal prosecutor said on Wednesday.

Christopher Clough, a former physician assistant, arrives at the federal courthouse in Concord, New Hampshire, U.S., December 12, 2018. REUTERS/Nate Raymond

Assistant U.S. Attorney Seth Aframe told a federal jury in Concord, New Hampshire, at the start of a trial that the kickbacks to Christopher Clough, 45, were part of the Arizona drugmaker’s overall effort to boost sales of its opioid, Subsys.

That scheme involved Insys paying doctors and other prescribers like Clough to act as speakers at events ostensibly meant to educate healthcare professionals about Subsys but that were actually shams, he said.

“He succumbed to his own greed, and in doing so, ladies and gentlemen, he violated the law,” Aframe said.

Patrick Richard, Clough’s lawyer, said his client had no idea Insys was trying to bribe medical practitioners like himself and that he prescribed Subsys to patients at his pain clinic believing it was a good treatment.

“This isn’t a case about individual greed but corporate greed,” he said.

The trial follows an investigation into Insys centered on Subsys, an under-the-tongue spray meant for cancer patients that contains fentanyl, an opioid 100 times stronger than morphine.

It could provide a glimpse into some of the evidence prosecutors will use in next month’s trial of six former Insys executives and managers, including John Kapoor, a onetime billionaire who was its founder and chairman.

Insys has said it takes seriously allegations of wrongdoing by ex-employees.

Aframe said Clough excitedly signed up to become a paid speaker for Insys, earning nearly $50,000 from 2013 to 2014 for poorly attended events that often were simply nice restaurant dinners with an Insys sales representative.

Aframe said Clough became one of the country’s most prolific prescribers of Subsys, prescribing it to 138 patients without taking the necessary steps to inform them about its risks.

Federal prosecutors in Boston contend Kapoor, former Chief Executive Michael Babich and their co-defendants conspired to bribe doctors to prescribe Subsys. They have pleaded not guilty to racketeering conspiracy.

A national opioid abuse epidemic resulted in more than 49,000 opioid-related overdose deaths in 2017, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In August, Insys said it had agreed to settle a related U.S. Justice Department probe for at least $150 million. It resolved a probe by New Hampshire’s attorney general focused on payments to Clough for $3.4 million in 2017.

Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; Editing by Alexia Garamfalvi and Matthew Lewis

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